Acknowledging the value of staff wellbeing has come a long way in the last few years. The pandemic bought the topic into sharp relief and did much to convert policies into practical action. There was a genuine need to check in with isolated employees to make sure they were OK. If a colleague asked ‘How are you doing?’ it was a real question not a social nicety, and it felt like a safe space to say ‘Actually, I’m finding this really hard’.

Because we all suffered to some degree, the global experience of Covid did much to narrow the divide between the, generally, mentally healthy and those who have experience of mental ill-health. The ‘us and them’ distinction at the root of stigma diminished.


Mental Health and Mental Ill Health

It’s a strange by-product of the disease model of mental health that we define our mental wellbeing in the negative. We refer to our ‘mental health’ when we are actually talking about ‘mental ill health’.

In fact, mental wellbeing is much more than the absence of mental illness, and it can be helpful to think of them as two different constructs, not opposites on the same continuum (Cheavens et al., 2006). To use an analogy with our physical health; when we break a bone or have high blood pressure, we go to the doctor with the goal of getting it fixed but we are aware that the most important aspect of managing our physical health is the day to day maintenance; exercising, eating well, good sleep and so on. It’s this regular effort that keeps us healthy. Likewise, with our mental health, whilst we may need additional help when we are experiencing difficulties, we all have a mind that needs caring for day to day. And, as with our physical health, it is so much better to maintain than repair. Yet so often we act only when it becomes necessary rather than take time for the pre-emptive work.

It is important to accept that when difficult situations arise for us in work, as they surely will, there is an emotional reaction. Learning techniques to help us deal constructively with difficult emotions and experiences is how we protect our mental health. Without this we can feel the accumulating effects as increased stress levels, reduced mental flexibility, decreased compassion and emotional fatigue.


What does keeping positive mental wellbeing involve?

The science on this is accumulating (see for example van Agteren & co., 2021) and there is a growing repertoire of practices to dip into. Using a model of wellbeing such as the PERMA model (Seligman, 2011) as a blueprint, there are active steps that can be taken to boost our positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievements to help keep us on track.

This might involve;
• Finding out what drives us so we can take greater satisfaction from our work
• Receiving and giving social support with colleagues
• Receiving acknowledgement and appreciation for our work to keep us motivated
• Taking structured time to off-load in groups or with a particular individual.

It is essential for employers to enable the opportunities and space for this to happen otherwise, with hybrid working here to stay, it is easy to see how many people will begin to be negatively affected. Less time for building and maintaining relationships, less acknowledgement for our achievements, eroding of shared values, purpose and vision makes it harder to take meaning from our work. The impact is already being seen in the trend of ‘quiet quitting’ with employees not going beyond the minimum demanded by their job description.


Trauma-Informed Growth In the Workplace

As we get back on our feet after Covid there have been many benefits to be taken forward from the experience, how we use technology being a key example. Zoom and Teams were already there but the necessity for home working forced us all to adopt these platforms and quickly adapt and learn something new.

The infrastructure for staff wellbeing also existed in many organisations pre-pandemic and again we were pushed to bring these policies into real action; to check in with each other, and to find new ways to have the water cooler chats and coffee breaks online. We learnt that for many of us, these quick conversations in passing or the pre-meeting catch-up are more than they appear. We need these little interactions to feel part of something, to feel seen, to notice when someone is not themselves, to remind us to look out for each other. Especially when it comes to assimilating new staff members and helping colleagues through difficult times. What is needed now is the conviction to take these positive changes through to the future to support positive organisations, work cultures and people.

Cheavens, J. S., Feldman, D. B., Woodward, J. T., & Snyder, C. R. (2006). Hope in cognitive psychotherapies: On working with client strengths. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 20(2), 135-145. Doi: 10.1891/jcop.20.2.135

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster

Van Agteren, J., Iasiello, M., Lo, L., Bartholomaeus, J., Kopsaftis, Z., Carey, M., & Kyrios, M. (2021). A systematic review and meta-analysis of psychological interventions to improve mental wellbeing. Nature Human Behaviour, 5(5), 631-652.

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